Warm Weather & Raised Spirits

As I feel the longer days, the warmer weather, and the abundant life of birds flying and people walking their dogs I can’t help but feel…lighter, happier.  Even in the midst of miscarriage, Carrie and I were able to go camping one evening in mid-May and have been taking the dog on very enjoyable, long walks.  Although we found ourselves in the midst of a struggle, the season lightened our load, I think.
I suspect that it wasn’t just the weather.  It was also activity.  This is confirmed by the CDC, which reports:
…Regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age. It can also reduce your risk of depression and may help you sleep better. Research has shown that doing aerobic or a mix of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities 3 to 5 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes can give you these mental health benefits….
When I’m feeling upset, depressed, or just a little bored or sad, my body tricks me.  My body ‘tells me’ that I want to sit in front of the tv or eat my feelings or mope about, but what my body wants will just make my mood worse.  I have found that if I get up off the couch and take a walk, even the shortest little walk around the block, my mood will improve and I will feel mentally, physically, and spiritually better than I did before.
My hope for all the people of this church is that we would take advantage of the beautiful weather, but not just watch it through the window.  Let’s find safe and age-appropriate avenues for holistically strengthening our health with a little bit of activity.
blessings,









*This blog has been reprinted from the Normal First United Methodist Church’s June Newsletter.

How Do I Do This Job?!?

An appointment to a new church can be a anxiety-laden experience.

  • You still have to have your head in the game at your current church.
  • You need to start developing relationships with people at the new church
  • and…you have to begin thinking about what ministry is possible with the new congregation.

First, I admit that I have it easy in this appointment change because I am on a medical leave after my brain surgery.  I am working ‘ahead’ on some things from the comfort of my home, but I am still anxiously imagining ministry in this new place that I don’t yet know or fully understand yet.

I know, I know, partly I just have to go be with them and the rest will come…but that doesn’t stop my head from spinning with ideas.

First and foremost on my mind, of course, is communication.  As an associate pastor I’m not sure how much I can influence the church in communicating in the ways I’ve been outlining on this blog, but that won’t hamper my enthusiasm…

  • I am concerned with developing a more effective (and relational) presence on Facebook.  They are a urban, on-campus church of about 1500 members but have 40 people on their Facebook page.  I can’t help but think we can explode that!  We can develop an atmosphere of check-ins, upload more photos and videos from around the church, and encourage relational posts (and sharing blogs).  What else are people doing out there?  Help me dream!
  • I think that blogging is one of the most effective ways a church can develop an online presence, but I’m just an associate pastor.  Does anyone have ideas for how an associate can get others blogging?  Anyone out there doing it effectively, especially where there isn’t currently a culture of blogging?
  • This next one may surprise you.  I think that printed media can be a highly effective mode of communication. So much communication is shifting to the internet that more-and-more people will be surprised by and notice real life mail, I think.  Yet, what a church puts out should not simply be a repository of small type and long articles.  It has to be concise, relational…and (this is the big one) high quality.  It has to look and be great!  And, by the way, what we put in worshiper’s hands on Sunday morning should be high quality and add to the worship experience, hopefully adding to the experience visually (with photos).  How important is it to have color capability?  How does one help train and inspire staff in not just publishing technique, but also taste?  (Again, not an indictment on the current staff…I just don’t know yet)
  • Oh, and the website… well, there is work to be done but until we develop social media and dynamic content I’m not sure it’s time to put too much energy into the internet presence with the least future potential.  This article shows that blogging and social media combined is outpacing website connections for churches and I think we’re only at the beginning. (38 percent of respondents said they had accessed a religious website and 41 percent had liked a religious institution, friended a religious leader, or read a religion oriented blog)  Most importantly, we should note:  17% had read a blog whereas people who had visited their religious institutions website (19%) won by a surprisingly narrow margin of only 2%.

Well, those of you involved with organizations, please leave me comments on how you do communication or send me an email!

Title image was found at:  http://www.ksrealitybites.com/2010/02/online-therapy-for-office-stress.html

The Burden of the Pharisees

Today’s Scripture:  Matthew 23:1-7

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and his disciples,  “The legal experts and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. Therefore, you must take care to do everything they say. But don’t do what they do.  For they tie together heavy packs that are impossible to carry. They put them on the shoulders of others, but are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do, they do to be noticed by others. They make extra-wide prayer bands for their arms and long tassels for their clothes.  They love to sit in places of honor at banquets.  They love to be greeted with honor in the markets and to be addressed as ‘Rabbi.’

Today isn’t going to be an academic study, so much, as a devotional look at this scripture.  I came to my devotional time and found myself in Matthew 23.  Boy did that take me down a notch!  If anyone likes being called teacher or rabbi, it’s a pastor, especially us young pastors who sometimes feel we have to gain visibility and respect…

Hmmm.  Well, let’s look more closely at this one line:

For they tie together heavy packs that are impossible to carry. They put them on the shoulders of others, but are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do, they do to be noticed by others.


I know a few modern day pastors that are like this and I strive to not be like them.  Oh, but yet they are often well-liked by their congregations.  How is that?  Pastors who tell everyone what terrible sinners they are and make long list of prohibitions “tie together heavy packs that are impossible to carry” are, in fundamentalist circles, often beloved.

I’m all about setting high expectations for the faithful, but there are two caveats:  1.) I’m one of the faithful.  That means: I have to live by the expectations as well!  2.) God’s expectation of us, it seems, is first and foremost that we should love others and God.  It is hard for me to effectively tell other people (in a prescriptive formula) how they ought to do it without modeling it.  It is better that I should attempt to live out my faith as I share that faith from the pulpit!

The problem with the pharisees is often a problem we have today.  We prescribe other people’s faith without living out our own faith.  As a people of the book we would be wise to set it down once in a while and live out the love we so often read about and stop creating ineffective burdens that weigh down our congregations.

blessings,



Ministry from the Backyard.

I’m still on medical leave from my pastoral duties…at least officially. Although I preached this morning for a confirmation service at my church, I get to walk away without the worries and responsibilities of being a pastor for the rest of the week.

I came home and relaxed in my recliner and did all the things that a guy should do when he’s recovering from surgery…but, then, when my wife got home I joined her in the backyard. She wanted to write a blog, but also enjoy the day. I couldn’t argue with that. I went out and did the same.

I logged onto facebook, then twitter, and then went over my blog stats and posts. I really did very little, yet I communicated with a number of friends, member of my church family, and people in the community. As I sit in the sun and write blog posts (feeling the wind whip past me and the sun on my arms) I am connecting with other people and building relationships. A pastor who only did this all week would be…well, quite simply, lazy… Yet, shifting some responsibilities to make time for social media is a smart move.

Getting a small laptop or iPad and going to the local coffee shop or a restaurant…or using an iphone to update your status (or check-in) from a community event or location will enhance and deepen your ministry and your connection to the people who live near you.

It is time for pastors to recognize that making time for social media, not at the end of the week when everything else is done, but throughout their week (as a priority) will help them to do every other element of their ministry in today’s new context!

NOTE:  The photos above were taken with intstagram.  If you are a pastor with an internet-connected smartphone, you need to get the app and start a photostream!  It’s a fun way to share your world with others.

Resurrection & New Life: A Good Friday Homily
image found at:  http://poeticmindstate.com/tag/poems/


Rev. Mike Rayson, a United Methodist pastor here in Illinois is giving this homily today at Westminster Abbey in London as a guest preacher.  He has agreed to share his message here as part of my guest blog series on Resurrection and New Life!  (Thanks Mike!)  You can find out more about Mike, his wife, and their ministry by clicking here:  http://stpaulumcbrighton.blogspot.com/


A Good Friday Homily by Rev. Mike Rayson

Grace and peace from the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, our Bishop Gregory Palmer, and from the good people of St Paul’s congregation  in Brighton Illinois, where I am currently appointed to serve together with my wife, the Reverend Amy Rayson, and our children Laura and Oliver.
Since Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, it has become for us the bearer of good news and of bad.  Serving a vibrant and growing congregation means that the phone in my home rings several times each day.  A church member who wants a friendly chat… A troubled soul seeking guidance… A local needing assistance with food… and sometimes news of illness, hospital admission, and even death.
It was the ringing of a phone one Monday morning in May 2007 that brought such news to my family.  I’m sorry… your son, 11 year old Samuel, has been tragically killed.  It was the beginning of a lifelong journey of pain for me, a truly Psalm 23 experience of moving through the valley of the shadow of death. 
They say a clergyperson shouldn’t officiate at the funeral of a family member… but for me, as Sam’s dad, I knew I must.  He was my son, and as I had served him in his life, so to I would serve him in his death. 
The most harrowing and traumatic moment of my whole life happened that day.  Not when I gave the eulogy… led the gathered faithful in prayer… or read from Matthew’s gospel of the one sheep who wandered away… but when I, as pastor and as daddy placed my hands upon the body of my child and recited the words…
Almighty God, into your hands we commend your son, my son, Samuel Thomas William Rayson.  Born March 28th 1996 in Port Lincoln South Australia, died May 14th 2007 in Geneseo, Illinois.  This body we commit to the flames.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust 
Nothing ever prepares a parent to bear the death of their child.  We use the word widow for one who loses a partner… orphan for those who have lost their parents… yet our English language does not provide a word for a parent who must live and grieve for their child.
Nothing could have prepared Mary, the Mother of Jesus, for this.  No broad shouldered support she received from the disciple John at the foot of the cross could have made the events of that terrible day in Jerusalem any easier to bear, as she watched her son put to death at the hands of a blind regime who wanted to hold fast to their religious power and authority.
In the heat of the afternoon on a hill of shame, a mother watched.  Whilst the world cursed and crucified the babe she had nursed at her breast, a mother grieved.  As the boy who had played at the feet of his mom was tortured and terrorized, scorned and shamed, despised and denied – the light that shone in a mothers proud eyes was extinguished, leaving in its place a wounded and suffering woman.
In the death of Christ, God Almighty embraced everything Mary experienced – the worst that we could ever experience; throwing his arms around our lost-ness, our shame, our sin, our alienation, and our pain… all the while whispering a simple word…
No… No… NO…
For this son of man, sent by God, truly God, came to seek and to save the lost, to embrace the darkness with the light of life… to redeem the tears of a woman whose heart had shattered at the vision of her son’s death.  ‘No’ cried God – this was not how it was meant to be for her, or for us.
In the words of theologian Dr. C Baxter Kruger, “there on the cross, he penetrated the last stronghold of darkness.  There he walked into the utter depths of our alienation.  There the intolerable No!, shouted by God the Father at the Fall of Adam, found its true fulfillment in Jesus’ Yes!  “Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit,” as he took his final step into Adam’s disaster.  Jesus died–and the Fall of Adam died with him”.
As a Dad, grieving for a little boy, my tears have truly fallen… leaning on the arms of her son’s beloved disciple, the tears of Mary, the mother of God must have fallen… and I know your tears too have fallen in the presence of death as you have encountered it.
For it is the thief says Jesus, who comes only to steal and kill and destroy;yet it is in the cross, underscored by what C.S Lewis’ referred to as ‘the deeper magic’, that Jesus has gathered back the tears the thief has stolen from us, and proclaimed that we are made for something beyond than the cold hands of death.  Something more than mere extinction or annihilation.  Something above the hands of time.  We are made for life and life more abundantly.
And so it is we wait… silently, painfully, expectantly… for that Sunday bloom of sheer grace and liberating life to rain again upon our broken and weary souls.  For as sure as the sun will rise on the dawn of tomorrow and as certain as the daffodils bloom each February and March, so death will NOT have the last word. 
Not for Mary, not for me, and most assuredly not for anyone who trusts in the one who died for us all.

Song of the Week Sunday

Rev. Cindy Watson shared this video on Facebook and I felt it was worth sharing with my friends as well.  Isn’t this a great song as we approach the transformation that is going to take place this Easter Sunday?  Wow.

Carrie Newcomer performs this song, “Geodes” with Gary Walters, Chris Wagoner and Mary Gaines at the Buskirk-Chymley Theatre.

Today is our first-ever Video Bible Study at Evenglow Lodge.  Even though I can’t be with the Evenglow residents today, I am still able to share through the miracle of technology.  Not only can I engage in Bible Study with residents of Evenglow, but anyone at First United Methodist Church in Pontiac, or, really, anyone in the world can take part in this ministry with us.  How cool is that?

First, Carrie and I wanted to share a couple of updates.  First, you are invited to click here to read a blog with the latest update on my tumor; written by my wife, Carrie.  Secondly, we would like to share a video from last Sunday with an update about my recovery, a testimony from my mother, and an update from my wife:



The scripture for Bible Study, today, comes from 2 Kings 5 and is the story of Naaman being healed by Elisha.  As you read along with me be on the look-out for expectations.  As we read about each character ask yourself, “how does this character look at the world?” and “What outcome does this character expect?”



2 Kings 5:1-14 


 1 Naaman, a general for the king of Aram, was a great man and highly regarded by his master, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. This man was a mighty warrior, but he had a skin disease. 2Now Aramean raiding parties had gone out and captured a young girl from the land of Israel. She served Naaman’s wife.  3 She said to her mistress, “I wish that my master could come before the prophet who lives in Samaria. He would cure him of his skin disease.” 4 So Naaman went and told his master what the young girl from the land of Israel had said.
 5 Then Aram’s king said, “Go ahead. I will send a letter to Israel’s king.”
   So Naaman left. He took along ten kikkars of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. 6 He brought the letter to Israel’s king. It read, “Along with this letter I’m sending you my servant Naaman so you can cure him of his skin disease.”
 7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he ripped his clothes. He said, “What? Am I God to hand out death and life? But this king writes me, asking me to cure someone of his skin disease! You must realize that he wants to start a fight with me.”
 8 When Elisha the man of God heard that Israel’s king had ripped his clothes, he sent word to the king: “Why did you rip your clothes? Let the man come to me. Then he’ll know that there’s a prophet in Israel.”
 9 Naaman arrived with his horses and chariots. He stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent out a messenger who said, “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored and become clean.”
 11 But Naaman went away in anger. He said, “I thought for sure that he’d come out, stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the bad spot, and cure the skin disease. 12 Aren’t the rivers in Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all Israel’s waters? Couldn’t I wash in them and get clean?” So he turned away and proceeded to leave in anger.
 13 Naaman’s servants came up to him and spoke to him: “Our father, if the prophet had told you to do something difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? All he said to you was, ‘Wash and become clean.’” 14 So Naaman went down and bathed in the Jordan seven times, just as the man of God had said. His skin was restored like that of a young boy, and he became clean. 


Scott’s Thoughts
And, now, if you haven’t fallen asleep yet, click on this video to hear some reflections on this intriguing scripture:





Before my new Video Bible Study goes live tomorrow afternoon, I thought I’d give you all a little bit of a head-start on 2 Kings.  Sorry I drone on a bit.  Next time I’ll try to be better.  Remember, this is my first try at on-line Bible Teaching.  In the meantime, I hope you learn a little something about this fascinating book of the Bible.

I wanted to offer you a taste of what we will be discussing in Bible Study on Tuesday with another scripture from 2 Kings.  Our theme on Tuesday will be:  What it means when we can’t do things for ourselves.  So between now and then, you are invited to read the scripture below and a few words from me.
2 Kings 4:8-17
(commonenglishbible.org)

One day Elisha went to Shunem. A rich woman lived there. She urged him to eat something, so whenever he passed by, he would stop in to eat some food.  She said to her husband, “Look, I know that he is a holy man of God and he passes by regularly. Let’s make a small room on the roof. We’ll set up a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp for him there. Then when he comes to us, he can stay there.”

So one day Elisha came there, headed to the room on the roof, and lay down.  He said to his servant Gehazi, “Call this Shunammite woman.” Gehazi called her, and she stood before him. Elisha then said to Gehazi, “Say to her, ‘Look, you’ve gone to all this trouble for us. What can I do for you? Is there anything I can say on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’”

She said, “I’m content to live at home with my own people.”

Elisha asked, “So what can be done for her?”

Gehazi said, “Well, she doesn’t have a son, and her husband is old.”

Elisha said, “Call her.” So Gehazi called her, and she stood at the door. Elisha said, “About this time next year, you will be holding a son in your arms.”

But she said, “No, man of God, sir; don’t lie to your servant.”

But the woman conceived and gave birth to a son at about the same time the next year. This was what Elisha had promised her.

Scott’s Thoughts
Elisha comes by and, just on his own accord, wants to help her.  He seems to want to “pay her back” for her hospitality, but the woman won’t hear of it.  She tells Elisha (who is also often referred to as ‘the man of God’) that she needs no more wealth or power.  Apparently she has all that she needs.  Elisha keeps ‘sniffing around,’ though, doesn’t he?  He wants to do something nice and realizes that he could use his powers to give them the gift of a child.

If you read my journal entry (online we call it a ‘blog’),  you will know that I’ve been struggling with what it means to have physical limitations. I think that many of us can relate to this woman of Shunem.  I think that, young or old, many of us find times in our lives when we become painfully aware that our bodies, minds or spirits just won’t let us do the things that we would really like most.

In fact, how does this woman respond to Elisha when he tells her of the gift he has planned?

She replies, “No, my Lord, O man of God; do not deceive your servant.”

This is a woman who is resigned to her fate of having no male heir.  She is a woman who is very aware of her bodily limitations and those of her husband.  If you are a resident of Evenglow reading this in preparation for Tuesday, then I have no doubt that you would respond the very same way to such a bizarre promise, wouldn’t you?

The funny thing about us humans is that we often don’t want to talk about our own limitations, even when we are convinced of them.  We want to ignore that there are things we can’t do for ourselves.  I don’t know if it is pride, hope, or simply stubbornness.  For my part:  the other night I tried to get up and go to the bathroom without my walker because I thought, “I can do this and I don’t need help from Carrie,” but instead found myself fallen on the floor, still waking her up, because I physically couldn’t do it on my own.

The woman of this story is well aware of her problems.  She probably didn’t appreciate having them thrown in her face, especially since she doesn’t really believe Elisha is going to be able to follow through.  She tells him that the last thing she needs is to get a false sense of hope!  She knows that she and her husband’s physical bodies are not capable of producing a son.  She is aware and resigned.

Yet, it is about one year later that she conceived and bore a son just as Elisha has declared.  Sometimes we are reluctant to talk about our problems.  Sometimes we are reluctant to accept offers of help.  Most often, we simply don’t believe that there is help available to us.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not a messiah and I’m certainly no Elisha, but I don’t think it takes the supernatural force of a great prophet or the physical presence of Jesus in sandals to do Holy works in this world.

When God formed communities of Hebrew peoples; when Christ commissioned and sent out the disciples; when the Holy Spirit came upon the new Christian-Jews at Pentecost something happened with humanity.  I believe that God does touch and heal in very real ways today.  This week as we prepare for Bible Study, let us be pondering a couple of questions:

  1. When have I needed something that I couldn’t do for myself? 
  2. How do I respond when people offer me help? 
  3. Do I have people around me who may be waiting for my help –or waiting for me to accept their help?


    Tuesday Bible Study
    (Evenglow Lodge Chapel)

    Join Us In-Person
    For Bible Study at the Evenglow Chapel
    Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012 at 1:30 p.m!

    We will look at 2 Kings chapter 5 as we discuss
    another person who needed help from Elisha!


    Showing Love

    FIRST:  Isn’t it funny how our minds and bodies will just take over and give us what we need -even if we don’t know what it is at the time??? The last few days I’ve been videoing and blogging to share with you all about my new medicine patterns and sleeplessness.  That’s old news, of course.  I realized something, though, this morning.  Like so many other 2 ams this week I found myself stirring.  I wobbled  to the bathroom and then went in search of my laptop.  (By the way: it is really hard to stay upright when you are missing part of your brain AND are on heavy narcotics, not going to lie about that.)

    Well, there is my wife asleep in the bed and I don’t want to wake her (such a light sleeper compared to me), so I head to the kitchen.

    Here it is almost 3 am and I suddenly realize that I’m at home.  I don’t mean that I feel at home or that my in-laws have just made me feel falsely welcome.  Nope!  I mean, I feel at home enought that I started my morning routine.  I went to the pantry and poured some Cinnamon Toast Crunch  (Yes, I’m aware of what a diet-poor decision that is.  I don’t care, btw, at 4 or 5am.  If it isn’t light out, the sugar and calories won’t count.

    I’ve really been blessed to be staying in a place where such hospitality is shown.  It is great to be in a place where my in-laws tell me how they feel about my attitude, life, or behavior so that I can be the best person possible.

    Tonight was one of those moments.  Earlier tonight I showed my mother-in-law, June, this new project I’ve bee doing.  She said, “Oh, gee, Scott, I see how you’re trying to make people feel appreciated, but this  could make people feel bad.  What about those people who have meant to send a card and forgot or couldn’t.

    As I’ve scanned these cards into the computer, I’ve let those words tumble around my head.  She may be right, yet there are some other thoughts tumbling around my head, lately.  Over the past few months have been preaching and teaching about how we need to truly show our love.  I’ve said it over-and-over:  We need to write a card, make a phone call, and we need to visit one another.  If we are to be a community of Christ we need to be disciplined in showing our love to those around us.

    I guess I could shove all these cards into an old shoe box as a selfish reminder one-day of some nice things that people once said to me…but I think the calling of pastor is higher than that.  I’ve been asking people to reach out in relationship and develop deeper connections with one-another, God and the world.  I want to lift up the thoughtful gestures that have been shared with me as an example.

    These aren’t just names on a paper.  This isn’t just a list of prayers in a bulletin.  It’s not just a signature on a nice picture.  Nope.  These are thoughts and love, poured out for others.  Whether it is a time of “Sharing the Love of Christ” on Sunday morning during worship; whether it is a phone call to a loved one on Saturday afternoon; whether it is stopping in for lunch at Evenglow or delivering meals-on-wheels…  Whatever ministries fill our week, let them be visible signs of how much we care for others.  We can’t just look at someone’s nametag and think that we know them.  We must look more closely at them and find deeper connections with them.  Tonight I show you just a few of the many expressions of love that I have received over the past few weeks.  (These are just a few from this week while I’ve been in St Louis, I’m not sure I’ll ever get them all up)  This isn’t meant as an exercise in vanity or a way to show off.  And I hope that no one feels bad if their card isn’t yet visible on this virtual card wall.  This is meant as a way to remind us that small expressions of love really do matter in this world.  Small expressions of love are what keep us going, smiling, and loving.

    Take a look at some of the nice notes I’ve received.  Then—-  don’t send me yet another.  Turn around, grab a piece of blank paper, and start writing a note to someone in your life who might just need a kind word.

    Lastly, I ask a favor.  I have tried to “redact” any personal or confidential notes that might embarrass or bother anyone.  If I have inadvertently left something in, or if you wish your note to be removed, please let me know ASAP and I’ll take it down!!!  The last thing I wish to do is cause trouble or discomfort for you!!!